Sindy Butz: hearth & homage to Hildegard


Hearth: 36 hrs (6 fireplaces) 
Homage to Hildegard: 38 hrs (7 locations)

"My works are whimsical metaphors and reflect my longing to go beyond the narrowness of reality, searching for purity, profoundness and a reason for existence. I am interested in creating cathartic experiences outside of church or any other religious institutions."


Going to Wave Hill feels like a voyage to a castle perched in Yonkers, New York. Across from the monumental New Jersey Palisades, the hill seemed like an idyllic paradise, blossoming flowers, green grass, and sprinkling fountains. “It was not like this during the wintertime…” artist Sindy Butz said. During the winter of 2016-17, Butz participated in a residency embedding her performative practice to unravel a new narrative on historic places. It was far different, traveling, and climbing through snow on a nearly empty estate. Perhaps this sort of solitude was necessary for the body of work which resulted: two unplanned series of works dealing with fireplaces on the property and a separate homage to the saint Hildegard of Bingen. Both of which became subjects of near obsession. 


Sindy Butz, Hearth-Ecology Building, Fireplace Series, 2016, video excerpt, duration variable, 1080p HD video with sound. Courtesy of the artist.


Hearth grew out of Butz’s exploration of architectural elements at Wave Hill, activating with her body numerous fireplaces on the property. The artist explains, "my site specific works deal with psychogeographic themes related to architecture, the perception of sacred space and the impact on the human body. Having been born in East Germany a decade before the Berlin wall was destroyed, my personal history informs my curiosity with belief systems, ideologies, collective conciousness, freedom and nostalgia." The fire places at Wave Hill acts as an metaphorical door, forging an entrance or exit for spiritual beings. Butz also brings up a nostalgic sense of pastime, with characters such Santa Claus entering the chimney, or the use of the fireplace as a place of gathering. Previously when Wave Hill was a residence, people relied on fireplace heating. These days, many remain as decoration with only the Ecology room used annually for a Christmas event.

In the video documentation, we experience a still camera view on Butz, moving with the most delicate gestures - wrapping around the protruding edges to the hind crevices of the fire pit. It is possible to imagine a pile of soot and ashes beneath her feet as she dances into the shadow. Her black gown renders her nearly invisible, blending into the freshly painted fireplace. Butz does eye contact with the camera. We're fixed to watching again as an outsider. Her mundane movements leads us to question the importance (or lack of). What are the hidden narratives? The haunting questions of what was one here and no longer there is a result of the human activation of these sites.


Sindy Butz, Hildegardis-Armor Hall, Homage to Hildegard, 2016, video excerpt 1-4, duration variable, 1080p HD video with sound. Courtesy of the artist.


Sindy Butz created a body of performances on video embodying the spirit of Hildegard of Bingen, a saint from the 12th century who left behind regarded works in theology. science, healing, and music. In a banquet hall, surrounded with arched windows, Butz takes on the spirit and vision of Hildegard — pacing, watching, laying. Our witnessing of such an event feels forbidden. It’s a witnessing to a deeply introspective moment of a holy figure in her struggles and sufferings with illness. In the hallow room, burdened by the snowfall, and sly presence of Butz leaves a sense of eeriness and conflicting feeling of an absence/presence. 

The mystery pulls us into the world of Hildegard, and Butz’s initial interest in her work, which she discovered during her research in medieval music. This trailed into an interest to bring into light to two things: the significant body of work she left behind, and her identity as a woman during a time of patriarchal religious institutions. This struggle of is perhaps best demonstrated through Butz’s slow walk through and into an uphill mound of snow. 


Sindy Butz, Hildegardis-Armor Hall Masonry, Homage to Hildegard, 2016, video excerpt, duration variable, 1080p HD video with sound. Courtesy of the artist.


Hearth, May 27 - July 9, 2017. Installation view, Sunroom Project Space, Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, Bronx, NY | Ceramic, mixed media, video, archival pigment print, smoky scent, fabric, fans. Various dimensions. Courtesy of the artist.


Sindy Butz is an interdisciplinary visual artist, movement researcher and somatic arts educator. Butz's art practice spans the disciplines of performance art, sculptural installation, photography and video art. Her philosophical live art embraces and inspires empathy, emotional intelligence, intellectual curiosity and sense of justice. Butz was born in the communist German Democratic Republic and raised in the suburbs of East Berlin. She is living and working in New York since 2009.

Butz earned a BFA in sculpture from the Academy of Art and Design, AKI, Enschede, Netherlands, and an MFA from the Institute of Art in Context, UdK Berlin, Germany.  She received the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) Jahresstipendium research grant in wearable technology for ITP Tisch, New York University (2009), which enabled her to move to New York. Butz has had solo exhibitions at Wave Hill, New York, NY, Castle Plüschow, Plüschow, Germany and Grace Exhibition Space, New York, NY. Her work has been featured in group shows at the Queens Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Alice Austen House and Fountain Art Fair Miami, New York, as well as internationally at the Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin, Germany and Museum der Dinge, Berlin, Germany. She has been awarded residencies at Wave Hill, New York; Schloss Plüschow, Germany; Chill Rialaig, South Ireland; and Kiyoung Peik Projects, Hwaseong, South Korea.

Through her performance art practice she re-discovered her enthusiasm for movement, which later led her to a new parallel career path. Butz became principal dancer at the New York Butoh Company, Vangeline Theater from 2010 to 2017. She has performed with the company at venues such as the Brooklyn Museum, New York, El Museo del Barrio, New York, New Museum, New York and Bronx Academy of Art and Dance, New York. In 2017 she became a representative and educator of the New York Butoh Institute/ Vangeline Theater. She is a certified BodyMind Dancing®  instructor and has currently concluded a movement and voice teacher certification of the Maureen Fleming Technique Fleming Elastxx™.

See her website for more.


This body of work was made possible with the generous support of the Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, Director of Arts and Senior Curator Jennifer McGregor/ Winter Workspace Program/ Residency Wave Hill, Curator Gabriel de Guzman/ Sunroom Project Space Wave Hill, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Office Of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Quincy Ellis of Facture Studio/Production, Clayspace 1205/Production, Hiroshi Shafer/Fine Art Framing, Jackie Battenfield/ Professional Development, mentor Ghada Amer, and spiritual guide Beatrice Glow.
HEADER VIDEO: Sindy Butz, Hearth-Toscanini Room, Fireplace Series, 2016, video excerpt, duration variable, 1080p HD video w/sound. Courtesy of the artist.

The projects Hearth and Hildegardis were conceived, performed, documented and executed by artist Sindy Butz.
Text by Billy Zhao, MAI